By Peter Giannetti
What a difference a couple of months can make.
There was still uncertainty in mid-April about whether the International Housewares Association would be allowed to hold its summer press preview planned for mid-June in New York City.
However, with New York State’s slight easing of gathering restrictions at the time, the decision was made to move ahead with what before its COVID cancelation in 2020 had been a key mid-year opportunity for consumer and trade media to preview home and housewares introductions for the holiday selling season.
It was the right decision.
IHA, prioritizing public health and safety considerations, limited the usual number of vendors for such press events. Allotted spaces for nearly 40 vendors filled up quickly, and dozens of press representatives registered, all signs of pent-up, enthusiastic demand by the media — an important conveyor of this industry’s message of ingenuity and impact — to reunite in-person with the business and its products.
In a case of better-to-be-lucky-than-good timing, New York State’s announcement early this week lifting COVID restrictions for commercial and social settings provided an added breath of fresh air to Wednesday’s IHA summer press event. While we still are trying to figure out what normal is now, this event sure looked pretty normal.
Such in-person interaction, media members at the event said, was a welcome break from digital communication, video and otherwise, that can sometimes feel overly programmed and impersonal, bereft of nuances that can distinguish a product and the strategy behind it.
For the vendors, it marked a chance to rehearse and hone face-to-face pitches ahead of what is expected to be an all-out return to in-person trade shows this summer into 2022.
The return of in-person business events will be full of story-telling about the personal and professional exploits of the past year. If misery loves company, so apparently does the joy of getting back to handshakes and actually tasting the coffee crafted by the latest brewer.
Speaking of telling stories, there seemed to be a pronounced effort at the IHA press event by vendors to frame their introductions with more color about what inspired products, origins of companies and lifestyles on which it is all centered.
Such engaging, in-depth salesmanship, beyond merely emphasizing a litany of features at a given price point, will help amplify to retailers and consumers the experiential product and brand attributes expected to become more essential post-pandemic to winning share of wallet.
I had the opportunity to conclude the press event by sharing the stage with Leana Salamah, IHA VP/marketing, and Tom Mirabile, Springboard Futures founder and IHA trend analyst, to highlight lifestyle threads connecting many of the new products on display.
These themes include the aforementioned opportunity to convey stories about products and brands and the experiences they enable; the need to help consumers returning to offices, schools and other away-from-home activities save time, a shift from serving the extra time presented during the pandemic; the potential for advanced on-the-go solutions as people ramp-up commuting and travel schedules; and the continuing importance of products that help eliminate germs, toxins and other potentially harmful elements as such prevention moves from an urgent concern-based need to a basic, enduring lifestyle want.
Media at the IHA press event, like retailers and consumers, are looking more attentively beyond what’s new to all the factors that make a product, a brand and a company different.
And what a difference it makes to have the opportunity again to get the whole story live and in person.